In our fast, ever evolving world the custom of planning meals has become a lost art. While the term “meal planning” gets talked about often, the act is going extinct. The idea of sitting down to plan meals for a family for an entire week can seem like a daunting task. However, to be able to execute healthy meals on a regular basis some planning has to take place.

I like to compare it to saving money. If you wanted to save $5000 dollars it’s unlikely it will happen if you just “wing it.” In fact I’d say it’s nearly impossible for you to decide to save $5000 dollars by a certain time frame; then by the end of that time the money is tucked away in an account or even a white envelope under your mattress if you have not put together a plan for it.

The same is true for planning meals. You can’t execute healthy meals that support your body and give you energy if there is no plan. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Also, there is no one way, or right way to do it. You have to do what works for you.

There are many styles for planning meals. I have to stress, there is no one way to do it.

There is no right way.

There is no wrong way.

Also, the meal planning style you chose doesn’t have to be consistent – meaning you can set it up in whatever way works for you at this time. It may change from week to week or month to month, depending on what is going on with you and your family. So let’s get to it. Here are a few ways that you can mix up meal planning to fit your needs.

meal prep

Traditional meal planning

Traditional meal planning is what everyone initially thinks about. This is when you sit down one day and plan out what everyone will be eating for the coming week. Since dinner is the meal that is most frequently needs planning it looks like this:

Sunday – pork roast, rice, gravy, smothered cabbage

Monday- baked chicken, steamed broccoli, sweet potatoes

Tuesday – tacos

Wednesday – pan fried catfish, corn on the cob, coleslaw

Thursday – leftovers

Friday – frozen cauliflower pizza

Saturday – out to dinner

When doing traditional meal planning you create the menu, then write out a grocery list based on everything you need for each of these recipes, minus what you already have on stock. This can be a major undertaking if you are starting this from scratch. To make this easier it can be done 3-4 days at a time to break it up a bit.

Meal prepping

Meal prepping has become more of “a thing” lately. This is when you take a few hours, usually on a weekend, and prepare 2-3 large meals that everyone will eat on for the whole week. These are prepared in larger amounts and may or may not be individually portioned for each meal. The meals that work for this type of meal prepping include turkey chili, loaded taco casserole, or shrimp, okra, and tomato stew. For this type of planning you cook, then eat on repeat.

meal planning

Long-term meal cooking

This is similar to the meal prepping above. For this you carve out several hours to prep a few meals. These are prepared in much larger portions and portioned for many meals. I’ve worked with some people who do this type of planning for 30 days of meals at a time. You can think of this as making your own TV dinners, only that taste better. It usually works best for meals for 1 or 2 people, and for people who don’t feel like they need much variety in their meals.

meal planning

Ongoing, build-a-bowl cooking

For this type of meal planning it’s a lot less structured and more flexible. You prepare a variety of foods that may or may not necessarily make a specific meal. Then when these foods are getting low on in the refrigerator you cook again. It can look like this:

Sunday – cook proteins: sauteed chicken thighs, meatballs (with or without a sauce), boil a dozen eggs; veggies: roasted broccoli, spaghetti squash, and sauteed zucchini; starches: bake sweet potatoes, and boil chickpea noodles

Then you cook again on Wednesday: cook proteins: browned ground meat, pork chops, and sauteed shrimp; veggies: roasted carrots, shaved Brussel sprouts, cauliflower rice; starches: boiled red potatoes, and roast diced butternut squash

These can be eaten on for several days, where they can be mixed and matched to build the bowl you want at the time. This allows to add things that don’t need preparation to change up your meals. Throw in some olives or cut up some diced sun dried tomatoes to a meal. Add jalapenos if you’d like. This also allows for everyone to eat different things at the same time. If the little ones like pasta with chicken they can eat that while you are having meatballs, broccoli, and spaghetti squash. There can be variety for each of your meals and for everyone else that is eating off of this too.

When your portions get low and it’s time to cook again you can do a similar concept or you can cook a casserole that will be eaten for the next couple of days.

Choose what works for you

Again there is no one way to meal plan. You have to do whatever works best for you. Here are a few other tips to remember:

  • Remember to use the kitchen equipment you have such as a slow cooker, Instant Pot, or air fryer. Don’t leave them useless in the cabinet taking up space.
  • Ask for recommendations from the people you are feeding. If you get buy in from others it will be easier when it comes to sitting down at the table.
  • When needed, buy foods that are already prepped for you such as diced onions or shaved Brussel sprouts. This assures you are not starting from scratch every time you start cooking.
  • Ask others to pitch in – have your hubs fire up the grill, get the kids chopping veggies. Everyone can be a part to make it easier for you.
  • Lastly, create and rely on a meal planning binder (that’s next).

So tell me, what kind of meal planning works for you?

What are your biggest struggles with planning meals?